Healthcare, as we know, is ever-changing, perhaps, it has come a long way from where it was 50 years before. Humanity has made tremendous achievements over the last decade, and this is especially evident in the medical field – thanks to physicians, scientists and researchers who’ve been working tirelessly year-round to combat diseases such as cancer, improve the patient’s quality of life, as well as make our lives safer.
In fact, medical research has become so profound with major breakthroughs continuing to speed up, giving us an array of treatment options for even the most lethal diseases in the world.
Whether it’s the personalised gene therapies for a rare disease or the novel surgical techniques for full face transplants, or the methods for regrowing organs and teeth, or the artificial intelligence that simplifies the lives of patients and doctors, here are 10 advances that have affected healthcare in a big way.
CRISPR, CAR-T Kymriah, And Gene Therapy
Genomics, a revolution in healthcare, is making it possible to predict certain conditions, diagnose, and treat diseases more precisely and personally than ever. Over the past decade, researchers have made great advances in genome engineering technologies, which enabled the editing of genome sequences much like one edits computer code.
There’s powerful gene-editing tool CRISPR that allows researchers to easily alter DNA sequences and modify gene function, which researchers claim could be used to combat thousands of diseases, ranging from inherited blood disorders to various cancers.
Earlier, researchers from pharmaceutical companies Editas Medicine and Allergan announced that CRISPR technology will be used inside the human body for the first time in the US to treat an inherited eye disorder that causes blindness.
Meanwhile, the US FDA, in 2017, approved three gene therapies for patients with serious and rare diseases. For instance, Novartis’ CAR-T therapy Kymriah was approved by the FDA to treat a form of leukemia.
Luxturna, the first-ever gene therapy (one-time gene therapy) for a genetic disease, had been proven to restore vision in people living with an inherited retinal disease that can lead to total blindness.
Gene-Edited Babies (Twins)
On November 25, 2018, Chinese researcher He Jiankui claimed to have created the world’s first genetically-edited twin babies, sparking severe global uproar and prompting the WHO to launch a registry to track research on human genome editing worldwide.
According to He, the girls, known as ‘Lulu and Nana’, had their DNA altered to help prevent them from contracting HIV. He used CRISPR-Cas9 to modify the CCR5 gene in the embryos that were generated to prevent HIV infection in the babies, whose father was a carrier of HIV – although the mother does not carry the virus. He claimed that the girls were born healthy.
Full Face Transplants
The United States, France, Turkey, and Spain are considered the leading nations in the research into the complex procedure. In 2018, Jerome Hamon became the first person in the world to receive two face transplants. Meanwhile, the world’s first partial face transplant was done on a French woman in 2005 in northern France. In 2010, the world’s first full face transplant was completed in Spain.
Implantable 3D-Printed Organs
Scientists have been working furiously to create a future where there is no shortage of replacement organs for transplantations. They hope that the heart, perhaps, someday the lung, might come from a machine. Earlier this year, Israeli scientists unveiled the world’s first 3D-printed heart with human tissue, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers.
Also, researchers in Germany created transparent, see-through human organs using new technology. They said that the development could help print 3D body parts such as kidneys and liver for transplants.
An inability to print complex vascular networks such as airways and blood vessels of the lung or bile ducts is one of the biggest roadblocks to developing these organ replacements. Using specially-designed 3D printing technology, researchers created an artificial air sac that structurally and functionally mimics similar structures found in the human lung, including the ability to pulsate or ‘breathe’ without bursting.
Artificial Intelligence For Medical Diagnosis
Artificial Intelligence is transforming medicine in numerous ways, perhaps, it’s heading to even replace human doctors. Today, healthcare workers are using AI for genome research, medical imaging, drug development, etc.
AI-based devices can analyse a lot more cases, learn and make decisions much faster than real medicine workers. AI can diagnose diseases like doctors and predict if you’ll die within a year- such is the power of AI.
Novel Methods Of Unclocking Cancer
Researchers continue to look for better ways to prevent, detect, treat and improve the quality of life of cancer patients and survivors. Immunotherapy, a cancer treatment that uses the body’s immune system to fight the disease, has changed the way oncologists treat cancer.
The biologic therapy has, in fact, become an established pillar of cancer treatment and seen significant advances in the last few years, including the 2018’s remarkable therapy that can help eradicate advanced breast cancer.
The remarkable therapy involved pumping 90 billion cancer-killing immune cells into the body of a woman who had reportedly been completely cured of advanced breast cancer. Dr. Steven Rosenberg, chief of surgery at the National Cancer Institute, described the procedure as ‘the most highly personalised treatment imaginable’.
In a major breakthrough, researchers at the University of Basel in Switzerland came up with a novel drug combination (diabetic drug rosiglitazone and cancer drug trametinib) that can stop metastasis in breast cancer by turning tumour cells into fat cells.
The world’s first ‘Darwinian’ drug plan designed to stop cancer’s lethal ability to evolve resistance to treatment, new therapies that cause no harm to healthy cells while targeting the tumour cells, and the new drug (called ascimimib) that can fight leukaemia without causing toxic side effects, etc. were some of the life-saving advances in cancer treatments.
Liquid Biopsies For Detection Of Cancer
The ‘OncoDiscover’ technology, developed by a group of Pune-based scientists and approved by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation, can detect the early spread of cancer.
The technology, which is claimed to be the fastest in the world, is expected to revolutionise the early diagnosis and management of cancer patients in India. In 2018, John Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center announced the development of a liquid biopsy called CancerSEEK (a single blood test) that can detect up to eight types of cancer.
First Uterus Transplant Baby Born In India And Asia
Meenakshi Walan, a resident of Vadodara in Gujarat, delivered a baby girl via caesarean section on October 18, 2018, 17 months after receiving her mother’s womb. The baby, who was born weighing 1.4kg at the Galaxy Care Hospital in Pune, was the first uterus transplant baby born in India and Asia.
A Blue Pill To Prevent HIV
Gilead Sciences’ Truvada (TVD) has been found to be effective for both treating and preventing HIV. The blue, oval-shaped pill, which is a fixed-dose combination of tenofovir, disoproxil and emtricitabine, led to an unprecedented reduction in new HIV cases globally when taken daily.
In July 2012, Truvada for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) was approved by the FDA to reduce the risk of sexually acquired HIV-1 in adults at high risk.
Also, in January 2018, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Brigham and Women’s Hospital developed a weekly capsule that can deliver a week’s worth of antiretroviral drugs in a single dose. This means patients may only need to take a single pill once a week in contrast to HIV therapy that involves multiple medications every day.
‘Game-Changing’ Tuberculosis Vaccine/First-Ever Vaccine Against Ebola Virus Disease
The new vaccine, which the researchers claim could be a ‘game-changer’ in the fight against tuberculosis, is found to be partially effective in preventing a dormant infection from advancing to active disease.
The vaccine, M72/AS01E, has been developed by pharmaceutical firms GlaxoSmithKline and Aeras, and needs to be tested in larger trials before it can be licensed for use.
Merck’s Ervebo has become the first-ever vaccine approved by the US FDA to help prevent the deadly Ebola virus disease. The vaccine was found to be 100 per cent effective in preventing Ebola cases.
Ervebo is a live, attenuated vaccine that has been genetically engineered to contain a protein from the Zaire ebolavirus, and is administered as a single-dose injection.